Sunday, June 2

Busted By JSO in a Parking Lot

I was waiting for someone in a "No Stopping" zone in front of a business when a JSO officer told me to move. I complied with a few words out of earshot, but I also got to thinking that he was over-enforcing the law. This may or may not be true.

Basically, Florida property owners can invite police onto their properties in order to enforce laws that wouldn't normally get enforced on private property. For example, if someone with an expired tag is parking in your mini mall parking lot, you can ask/allow JSO to ticket the vehicle. When parking lot owners were upset about car meetups with dangerous driving, they invited JSO onto the properties, but the violations were probably for trespassing rather than private parking lot speeding.

When I was working at a retail store in college, a raced through the parking lot once in order to get to work on time. A mall security officer drove over to me in order to warn me, and I asked what he or other local police could really do. He told me to just be careful (and he was right). I generally was careful, but I'm pretty sure neither he nor local police had much say as to whether or not I was speeding in the mall lot. Or stopping at the stop sign. 

Florida seems to allow some cooperation between police and property owners, but I'm still not sure it extends to parking lot rules like no stopping zones in front of buildings. To me, that's in the realm of private security asking nicely and then turning to JSO when I refuse to comply, not a heavy-handed police officer deciding he's also a parking lot cop. I mean, if I put a "Chevy Parking Only" sign in my driveway, is this officer going to show up to my house and ticket a friend who parks a Mercedes in the spot? I understand disabled parking spots because there's some kind of federal law about that, but I'm not sure my taxpayer money that goes to JSO is meant to provide officers patrolling in front of Walmart to keep the area clear of old-lady drop offs.

Mostly, it seems that private parking lot enforcement by JSO may take cops away from real crimes, but it's also about playing favorites. Homeless people have started fires behind some private businesses, meaning cops aren't stopping them from basically living there, but apparently other lots have cops enforcing sign that aren't even considered city code? And if the business owner is paying JSO extra for uniformed police to harass folks in a parking lot, I'm not sure that should really be available. He should have been forced to drive a golf cart and wear a uniform with a giant "Z" patch on the side. Keep in mind that I am not suggesting we all rebel against parking lot signs or JSO cops. I complied, and I suggest that if a police officer wants to patrol the local Chick fil a drive-thru, you follow his orders.

Poor Mike F - Pizza Hut Review

Beach and Hodges 

Our closest Pizza Hut was closed. I probably don't want to know why. The next closest store was on Beach near Hodges. The experience was not good, so I'm glad it's not our closest location.

Technically, the experience was much worse for a guy named Mike who was waiting in line before me. Since Mike was kind of a blonde pretty-boy, I don't feel terrible for him, but nobody at that pizza joint really deserved to be mistreated in the way we were.

Mike and three others were in line when I arrived at 6:10. My order pickup time was 6:15, so I was ok with waiting a few minutes. I believe Mike was on the board for 6pm, so his pizza was already late. The cashier eventually took money and delivered pizza to the other two in line, then got to Mike and myself, printing receipts but saying Mike had "literally two seconds" before his pie would be ready. That was at about 6:15, and he was right. The pizza came out of the oven and was placed in the heated waiting spot for Mike a few seconds later by an employee who seemed to have the one job of taunting customers by placing their orders just out of reach. A few minutes later, the cashier left with pizzas to deliver, but he first had to ask the customer who had overly optimistically double-parked him in to move her car. Another ten minutes went by, with the strange guy continuing to add more pizzas to the holding area before the pizza-maker dude came over to man the cash register. He proceeded to give Mike crap about not having a receipt before Mike told him his pizza had been sitting there for 10 minutes and the other guy had already printed his receipt.

Mike finally got his pizza. I was next, and I was lucky the pizza dude decided to give me my pizza without questioning where my receipt had gone (I'm not sure). I'm also not sure how the rest of the line went after I left, since the rest of the line consisted of two butch women who looked very ready to complain and an amputee (who had parked the delivery guy in), also not in a good mood. But I can at least tell you this: Pizza Hut on Beach and Hodges doesn't discriminate against LGBT or minorities or military because everyone gets the same awful service.

Anyhow, the pizza took forever, but it was hot when I got it home, partially because I used the heated seat and kept the AC on low. The problem is that the actual pizza was burned on the outside and a bit doughy in the middle. That means the delivery guy and pizza guy couldn't work the cash register right, but even the weird-Igor-oven-guy couldn't get the pizzas done to the fairly simple standards of being cooked evenly, meaning the entire business was in a shambles. I'm sure everyone hates waiting an extra 20 minutes for their pizzas, but they are willing to forgive if it at least tastes good. While it's possible Mike F's pizzas were cooked properly, I somehow believe he also had a simultaneously undercooked and burned Pizza Hut experience.

Wednesday, May 8

Florida Teacher License Lookup

I was trying to find out when my Florida teaching license expires when I realized that the public license lookup for teachers no longer seemed to exist, at least not until I found an obscure link from a county school website. I'm not sure if the teachers union pushed to have their members' info obscured or if the FDOE wants to make it harder to prove that charter schools (and probably public schools) are using unlicensed teachers. Or it was maybe an oversight in a web redesign. 

If you want to look a teacher up, here's a link that works in 2024, even if it's not really officially on the main Florida Department of Education website anymore. You'll probably have to click around the website, like the main logo or something. It's clunky. 

You do have the right to know if your kids' teachers are licensed, even if your charter school overlords don't want to tell you.

That said, my license expires in June of 2024, and I don't have the silly credits / special Ed / reading certs required to renew, so whatever. I imagine with low pay, high stress, hoops to jump through to renew, and the worry of jail time for using the wrong books, plenty of Florida teachers are letting their licenses lapse.

Tuesday, May 7

Will Anyone With Sense Please Step in and Stop the Autonomous Vehicle Fiasco Downtown?

The Jacksonville skyway thingy is pretty stupid. It's good for photos, like the Landing was (years ago), but no one uses it except a few tourists, and most locals barely know it exists. Kind of like the Mayport river ferry. But to add millions of dollars on top of stupid in order to get a fake autonomous system that's basically just a van (with a driver) is borderline criminal. Actually, it's over the borderline. Sometimes, cool innovations just don't work, and then it's time to move on. Please, someone in the mayor's office or city council or Shad Khan or whoever really runs Jacksonville, for the love of God, shut down the autonomous vehicle ride fiasco before we owe more money for a few tourists to ride a few miles in a van. 

Can we just admit that Jacksonville is not a city built for public transit? It's super spread out, and there isn't enough going on downtown. Maybe a decent investment is more of the JTA vans, or just throwing money at Uber/Lyft to take over for empty buses. Or an actual fast-moving, long-distance street rail system that ties downtown to the Beaches and maybe a stop on San Marco and the Town Center. But fast and long-distance, not short and slow, whether autonomous or not.

Or nothing. It's just a kind of welfare, anyhow, especially in such a car-centric city as Jax. I took a lot of Urban Planning classes, and I wish I was wrong, but I'm not. Rethinking transit options in Jacksonville might be possible, but it's not going to come via pretending to have an autonomous vehicle system intended to carry almost no one to nowhere in particular. Please, someone with a say, kill the autonomous skyway Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) Bay Street Innovation Corridor (BSIC) money pit before we all get sucked in.

Monday, May 6

Maybe it's Time to Unconsolidate

Duval County tried consolidation as a way to equalize education, but the broader results haven't been positive. Right now, when DCPS is short on funds, would be a perfect time to look into unconsolidation. 

The plan was for all children to have equal opportunities at all schools, but it's silly to think anyone wants to send their kids from one end of Duval County to the other. I have to admit that I thought a similar fix might work for Milwaukee Public Schools at one point, where in-county suburbs like Glendale, Wauwatosa, and Franklin have excellent schools. But it didn't work in Jacksonville, ending permanently with a Supreme Court decision that forced integration couldn't happen because of the insane amount of time and money spent on busing. So now we're left with one of the largest school districts in the country covering by far the largest area, and it's competing with total school choice, while being forced to consolidate buildings in order to survive. However, at least two new school districts could be formed that could survive the apocalypse, as long as they are released from DCPS, leaving Duval Schools to figure it out with a much smaller footprint. And also keeping the families we want in Duval rather than forcing them to move to St. Johns County.

The way I see it, you've got nothing but typical big-city school issues anywhere west or north of the St. Johns River, so I'd keep that all DCPS. I know, it's not fair. Whatever, that district could have the most federal money and human resources to work with. Stanton could still be there as a beacon to people who want to do that Stanton thing. 

The second district would be Mandarin up to San Marco, or everything between the river and E295. I would delete Terry Parker because nobody wants to go to Terry Parker. 

The third district would be anything east of E295, so basically the Atlantic Coast, Sandalwood, and Fletcher areas. It would get the least amount of state aid and may need to rework how money is spent, but it's also the area where a lot of people who could easily move to St. Johns County have decided to make their homes. Actually, the same could be said for the Mandarin to San Marco areas. 

The point is that before consolidation, the suburban districts would have been successful on their own. The point of consolidation was to bring the lower-performing schools up to the level of the other schools in the county. However, it was never allowed to fully happen because of the logistics, and now the large district is dragging those annexed suburban areas down so far that the district as a whole is in real trouble. 

Personally, I would vote for a property tax increase if it was for the three high schools in my own area, but I think I'm done voting for DCPS referendums that lead to delayed construction projects, closed schools, teacher lay-offs, and generally missing money. 

Years ago, Jacksonville tried something new and progressive in order to equalize education for all students. Now, it might have to loosen its grip in order to save public education in the city. 

Tuesday, April 30

Let's Rename Bishop Kenny to Bishop Lenny

Bishop Kenny was probably a real person. I'm sure he was a decent guy, but the fact is that it's not like he has kids and grandkids clamoring for continued recognition for him. Conversely, Lenny was a Jacksonville mayor who managed to survive trying to sell off JEA so that1 he and his buddies could retire early. He also let another buddy pretend to be a cop because he was rich. Lenny put up a bunch of flashing blue lights in crappy neighborhoods to stop crime. And he oversaw a very successful decade of construction at the airport I-95 interchange. I'm sure he did some other stuff, too, and he sent his kids to Bishop Kenny (unlike Bishop Kenny himself). All of that should be reason enough to rename Bishop Kenny to Bishop Lenny.

Some might say that Lenny is not a Bishop, but Lenny's rich friend was not a police officer when he was allowed to hang out at police HQ and wherever else within JSO he wanted to go. I guess that's what heroes who receive the key to the city get out of it, at least until they start asking teenagers for lap dances. Also, I'm not a manager, yet many people in Jacksonville call me "Boss." I guess the school could be renamed Boss Lenny, but Bishop is a little more religious sounding. Less Boss Hogg-ish.

Maybe Bishop Kenny hobnobbed with God, but we don't have photographic evidence of that. Bishop Lenny High School could display photos of Lenny hanging out at sporting events with lobbyists from power companies. Power companies are powerful because it's right in the name. 

Lenny left us with mostly the way he found us, but with some small upgrades. The I-95 interchange at the airport still under construction. Shotspotters are now used to know when and where someone got killed. The empty Landing has been replaced by empty space. Older strippers, then younger strippers, and now probably older strippers again. Confederate monuments. I am glad those fishing game gambling things closed, and I'd say that is the #1 positive accomplishment for Lenny. Jesus, and probably Bishop Kenny, would have approved of getting rid of those dens of sin.

I'm sure there were people in the Catholic church who used terms like "useless," "alcoholic,"  and "favoritism" when referring to Bishop Kenny. Lenny will be comfortable hearing these words, too.

Saturday, April 27

Two Referendums and Now Layoffs From DCPS?

I voted for the referendum to finally rebuild, maintain, or upgrade schools. It passed, but I won't see the upgrades before my kids graduate because I'm-not-sure. I voted against a teacher pay and arts funding referendum because I didn't understand from the description how it would benefit my kids. It passed, but I still had to send in a check for art materials. As a community, we've added higher sales taxes and property taxes to benefit our schools, but now the district is set to lay off hundreds of staff amid a teacher shortage, and with the lackluster results of the other two referendums, I don't see the taxpayers wanting to step in.

Part of the problem with the school upgrades was the requirement to harden the schools' security before construction of new facilities, so schools spent resources adding bars and cages and cameras before even starting classrooms. Then prices went up, I guess. Maybe contractors got greedy or it's just inflation, but we will be getting less than we've been promised. Less than we're paying for. On top of it all, charter schools use their slice of the money to pay rent to themselves and enrich their owners.

The arts and pay referendum cost all of us on our property taxes or rent increases, but art teachers are often the first to get laid off, so I'm not sure how that will play out. I don't even know which teachers were getting the pay increases or if that was necessary to retain talent. I bet most teachers just want to keep their jobs right now. I've been there.

It sounds like the district is blaming school choice for all its woes, but it also added that Covid funding had disappeared. Add in charter schools that steal students and budgeted funds, and Duval Schools are in trouble. We're talking way beyond "Save-Atlantic-Beach-Elementary" trouble. Again, I've seen it before, and this doesn't end well, folks. The district was relying on funds it didn't really have (COVID, pre-inflation construction, students who later enrolled in choice schools). And now, we'll have to increase class sizes, fire teachers, close schools, and basically enter into panic mode unless the far-right state legislature steps in to save a school district in a city run by a Democrat mayor, so that's not going to happen. If you enjoy watching the proverbial train wreck, get ready for a show.

Lots of $100,000 consulting fees will be paid in the near future that might save $120,000 in electrical costs over the next five years or might encourage dinosaur teachers to retire early to get their pay off the books, but it won't be enough. Unlike JEA, which was pretty much fine, DCPS is right in the middle of a death spiral. The new superintendent may as well be one of those CEOs companies hire to restructure before declaring bankruptcy. There will be a lot of finger-pointing and blaming, but it'll be silly and useless. This was the goal of the legislature all along. 

When I faced similar challenges in my school district as a teacher, I was the only teacher who floated taking a pay cut for all of us in order to save jobs (and my salary sucked). The union and the teachers will do a lot of screaming and yelling before this is over, but it's really already over. Before it gets too far, maybe we need to shut it all down and start over from scratch as an all-charter school system. Or a dozen smaller school districts. Or all K-12 schools. I don't know. Get some consultants. 

Saturday, April 13

Trailmark Sounds A Lot Like Trailerpark

If you were going to build a fancy new car, would you name it a Jugo or Hugo? Not unless you want consumers to remember the Yugo. And you'd have more sense than to name your new vitamin pill Vigara, since another your business growth might not only be base on excitement for your product. So I'm wondering why someone would build a fancy suburban neighborhood and then name it Trailmark, because it sounds an awful lot like Trailer Park to me (and it's exactly what the fancier neighborhoods in St. Johns County will be calling it).

I do have to admit that I'm happy that we've only taken 150 years to move past naming neighborhoods after plantations. Sure, we still have a bunch of plantation-hoods, but names like Wildwood, Nocatee, and Beachwalk at least forego the odd naming convention. It's also nice to see that after 250 years, we might be moving past the other convention of naming neighborhoods after England, like Kensington. 

Still, I think Trailmark sounds a lot like Trailer Park.

Wednesday, February 28

Whales and Nor'easters Might Mean No Beach For You

Mickler's Landing is going to be mostly closed from March to August 2024 in order to restore the beach and protect the shoreline (and lots of multi-million dollar homes). When I first read that the popular beach in Ponte Vedra would be closed most of the spring and summer, I naturally assumed the rich folks who live along the coast pushed for the timeline, but I was wrong. Apparently, the schedule was created in order to avoid whale and Not"easter seasons, not just to give wealthy homeowners six months of private beach. That said, it will probably a perfect time to sell your Ponte Vedra Boulevard mansion if it's within a few blocks of the closed beach. While the huddled masses are stuck at Jacksonville Beach trying to pay for parking.

Back to whales and storms. Who knew, right? I guess I always figured work on the beach was close enough to land (the beach) to avoid whales. Maybe some pissed-off seagulls or jellyfish. And the Nor'easter excuse is also kind of blah because humans have spent thousands of years braving all kinds of storms while working on boats, bridges, docks, and pirate-themed-mini-golf-courses. I assume working through Nor'essters would still be better than hurricane season, especially if it's mostly sitting in a bulldozer on the beach. 

Monday, February 26

40% Loss in St. Johns County Tree Canopy in Last 20 Years?

According to Global Forest Watch, St. Johns County clear cutting has resulted in a 40% reduction in the tree canopy from 2001 to 2022. I'm sure the hippy-dippy treehuggers with Global Forest Watch may overestimate as much as possible, but I'd wager the loss of forested areas in St. Johns County is significant. I guess the question is whether or not it matters.

In my home state of Wisconsin, about 85% of the state was forested when Europeans showed up, but by 1915, only 1% of the state had forests. Farms, cities, selling wood, etc. Today, the state is back up to nearly 50% forests. It turns out that not all forested land was useful a farmland, and you can't harvest trees for wood if there are no trees left. Even St. Johns County will likely never decide to clear cut 99% of the forest. The main difference is that today's clear cutting is to build wide roads and mini malls next to sprawling neighborhoods with pretend beaches and other amenities, not farms or factories.

My family farmed Wisconsin land for 150 years, providing food and milk from about 100 acres. The land was mostly deforested, even if there were a couple of "woods" on the property. But if my cousin decides to plant trees instead of crops, the forest would come back. I'm sure most of St. Johns forested land had already been deemed deficient for farming, so it's not like the new neighborhoods are taking farms away from feeding us. So it's more about what we want for our landscape as opposed to competing uses. The main consideration is that when a farm fails or sells, the trees can grow back, but neighborhoods don't quite work that way.

I'm not totally sure where I stand on this issue. Land is there for us if we need it, and restrictions like those in Oregon have proven to limit affordable housing while maintaining natural beauty. The problem around here is that our standards are non-existent, meaning developers build or use a narrow road as a single entrance to a huge neighborhood that adds congestion requiring wider roads that now also need gas stations and Walmarts because it takes 15 minutes just to get to the exit of the vast neighborhood, so roads are widened, traffic lights are added to intersections, and then more traffic signals are needed for the next neighborhood or commercial development or (heaven forbid) apartment complex, and suddenly there's an entirely new city made up of single-entrance neighborhoods and strip malls. But there's a Kilwins or Keke's, so everyone is happy. At least until the next mega-neighborhood gets built a mile down the road.

I guess what I'm saying is maybe a little bit of planning might help a lot in the long run. People live here in the long run, while developers only care about the short term.

No Property or Income Taxes?

Government needs money to run. In Florida, we already don't have all three of the kinds of taxes: income, property, and sales (maybe use tax is a fourth kind). As a state, we've decided to eliminate income tax, which makes Florida a safe-haven for top-earners and retirees, while shifting the tax burden to lower classes and tourists. Now, the legislature has a plan that seems to shift the tax burden even further in that direction by suggesting we eliminate property taxes.

The problem is that getting rid of taxes doesn't make government cheaper. It just shifts the burden. In Jacksonville, for example, we just added to our property tax burden by voting to give teachers and the arts a pay hike in Duval schools (and probably charter schools). A property tax elimination, even if it's capped, will lead to huge deficits unless huge fees placed on others. 

My house is probably about the average home in Jacksonville. I pay about $3,000 in property taxes. Let's say an average of 4 people per household in Jacksonville, meaning 250,000 households in a city of a million. That's $750,000,000. Gone. So we double the sales tax. The fat cat who winters along the intracoastal and claims Florida citizenship will pay $0 income taxes and $0 property taxes on his multi-million dollar home, but I guess he'll chip in when he invest that same $30,000 (his current property taxes) at Home Depot to upgrade the sink in his 7th powder room. Problem is, the government would only get a portion of that $30,000. Even if we add an insane sales tax of 10%, that's only $3,000 of the original $30k, and what if he doesn't upgrade the powder room? There's no evidence that rich folks can possibly buy enough Porsches to make up for not paying income or property taxes, even if they will now be able to afford more Porsches.

Wednesday, February 14

I Think I'm a Slave to my Pest Control Company

State lawmakers are considering eliminating property taxes in Florida. The argument that's been used is that once you pay off your house, you should be free of all expenses, so charging people property taxes makes them slaves. I know, it's pretty silly. Even if you pay off your house and decide to self-insure, you're still going to need power and water. Plus, you probably want parks, schools, and roads. And even if you do self-insure, you'll eventually need a roof when it starts leaking. And if you refuse to pay HOA fees, they will take your house. So most of are basically slaves to our homes, and eliminating the property tax won't fix that. The talk of being bound to my house and a recent pest-control fee increase reminds me that I'm just as enslaved by my termite bond as any other home responsibility.

We bought a house that was crawling with cockroaches. That should be surprising, since the previous owner had, according to my contract, paid for a yearly termite service since the house was built (generally comes with other pest services). Anyhow, we inherited the termite bond, which is apparently good for as long as we keep paying. And we have really, really kept paying. I think we've had two increases in price along with a decrease in yearly treatments (from four to three). But we really are stuck if we want to keep the security of knowing we won't get termites (or at least someone else will pay for repairs). No one has checked the traps or treated specifically for termites in years, but my contract and my yearly renewal of it implies I'm still covered. But it keeps me from pricing other companies or even walking away from what I see as a bit of an extravagance: I'm sure we could deal with handling most of our own pest issues with sprays and traps, but I'm just not sure about termites. So I'm paying close to $1,000 a year for three visits from a guy who spends about 20 minutes spraying a chemical around my house. Think about that hourly rate. And if I consider the fact that I only pay about 3x that for my property taxes, I'd say paying for government services is a better deal by a long shot.

Friday, January 5

Walmart Gatekeeper Attempts to Own Customer, Fails

I'm sure he was bored. The big shopping rush for the day was over, and a few stragglers (like me) we're getting their curbside deliveries after 9pm. He was also trying to impress his friends and/or the fine ladies working the delivery area. I understand. The guy is probably fun at football parties, but this is his actual job: answer the phone and deliver the items. Instead, I got amateur night at the Apollo.

I'm pretty sure it began with an answer that wasn't part of the script, since I was a bit put-off from the start. Probably something like, "What ya need?" Or maybe it was just the tone of voice. I don't remember exactly, and not a big deal. I told him I was there for my order. Brian (last name). We'll say it sounds like Flagler. Our comedian comes back with, "Brian Vinegar?" I could hear some muffled laughter. In all my years of having a somewhat difficult name, not one person has gone with Vinegar. Plus, I've never seen it as a last name, so it's probably some game that's played at Walmart to seemingly mis-hear last names and replace the name with some random item from the shelves. Like if your last name was Tebow, but the employee says Teabag or T-bone. Or last name Allen but he says Allegra. I guess it's entertaining in a very limited way.

I knew the guy was playing around, so I wasn't too surprised, after spelling out my last name, that he asked if it was Brian with a y or an i. Of course, he already had the package in front of him, and he probably knows how annoyed those of us spelled the right way get when asked if it's with a y. I suppose if my last name had been "Vinegar," it might have been Brian with a y because if you already have a stupid last name, you might as well make it official with a random consanant acting as a vowel in your first name.

Anyhow, at the end of the call, when the comedian moonlighting as Walmart employee said he'd be right out, I told him to bring out some of his good drugs. That surprised him. 

I was kidding, of course. Walmart probably doesn't carry really good drugs.

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